READING —If you've ever seen Good Morning America's Summer Concert Series and thought how much fun it would be to have something like that in your town, then Downtown Alive is for you. From May until mid-October, visitors to Reading can treat themselves to free concerts performed by well-known recording artists and bands.
Produced by the Reading Downtown Improvement District, with sponsorship from the Berks County Community Foundation, Berks County Convention Center Authority and The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, the Downtown Alive series converts Center City at the 500 block of Penn Street into an intimate outdoor concert arena.
The lineup for 2019 included new wave stalwarts A Flock Of Seagulls ("I Ran"), funk, rock, and R & B fusion masters The Revolution ("Purple Rain "and "Around The World In A Day" with Prince) and alternative rock heroes Cracker ("Low" and "Get Off This"), so there is something for every music taste.
Downtown Alive is a new find for me so I caught the series as it wrapped up its season with a concert by the band Cracker, which coincided with the start of the Reading Royals hockey season. The event featured players from the team walking a red carpet from the Double Tree hotel to the Santander Arena as fans cheered. A red carpet, a great band, plenty of food and beverage vendors, Slapshot the Royals mascot and an enthusiastic crowd made Downtown Alive a party and everyone was invited.
Cracker has the unique distinction of being the only band to open for both The Grateful Dead and The Ramones. Any music lover will notice Cracker's dedication to giving all they've got to their live performance. Onstage, they have the gift of making what they do look easy... it's not.
Each member shines. Lead singer David Lowery, who also enjoyed success with his other band Camper Van Beethoven, delivers each lyric with an ultra-cool stage presence. Lowery also plays guitar and compliments the fancy fretwork of Johnny Hickman, whose styles range from distorted and crunchy to swampy soulful blues. Bassist Bryan Howard and Carlton "Coco" Owens on drums are the rock steady rhythm section, and Paul McHugh's tickling the ivory of the keyboards adds another element to the music. Together they create a sound that falls outside of traditional genres.
Spanning material from their self-titled debut to their signature album "Kerosene Hat" to "Gentleman's Blues" and the more recent release "Berkeley to Bakersfield," the set list offered something for a range of fans from their early days to those who are just discovering the band.
"Loser," a Grateful Dead cover, opened the show followed by "The Good Life" and "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)" the first song to give Cracker a No. 1 hit on the charts.
There are usually one or two songs at a concert that win the audience over and remind them why a band achieved greatness and this happened after a few songs into the show with another hit single "Low." Lowery sang the verses with Hickman's alternating response between soft eerie sound effects and heavy thunderous playing, and the audience joined in for the chorus. A few songs later "Get Off This" an MTV hit (when MTV used to play music videos regularly), rallied the audience again and got everybody dancing.
Rounding out the set were newer tracks "California Country Boy" paired with fan favorite "Euro- Trash Girl," a great way to bridge the gap between eras of the band. Cracker does not take the expected route of doing their best known songs at the end of the show which keeps you guessing as to what you'll hear.
"One Fine Day" from their 5th studio album, 2002's "Forever" and "Gimme One More Chance" from 2006's "Greenland" were the encore. These might have been deeper cuts but the audience was with the band and went along with them for the ride. Showing that they don't take themselves too seriously, before leaving the stage, Lowery said that he would see everyone inside to drop the puck on the ice and referenced HBO's series "Curb Your Enthusiasm" hoping he doesn't have a Larry David moment.
It only takes one concert to make you a fan of a band and this show made me a fan of Cracker. To check out their music or tour dates near you go to www.crackersoul.com.
Rodeowould like to say thanks to the following people for being super, awesome, and cool: Cracker, Tour Manager David Basham and Tony Bonyata at Pavement PR.
Kid reviewer Rodeo Marie Hanson, 13, of Fleetwood, contributes entertainment columns to Berks-Mont Newspapers.